Growing up the hard way

Ten years ago Michael Gays was named a Child of Achievement. He was praised for his bravery after having hours of surgery aimed at extending one of his legs and avoiding life in a wheelchair. After 22 operations, the process is almost complete. ANGELA

Ten years ago Michael Gays was named a Child of Achievement. He was praised for his bravery after having hours of surgery aimed at extending one of his legs and avoiding life in a wheelchair. After 22 operations, the process is almost complete. ANGELA SINGER reports.

MICHAEL Gays will be 19 next week. He will celebrate his birthday just three days before he has a metal frame unscrewed from his leg after his twenty-second operation.

Michael, from Brampton, was born without a fibula - the bone behind the shin - so that while the rest of his body has grown normally (he is a strapping lad over 6ft tall) his right leg needed help to catch up.

The surgery is painful but Michael has always kept smiling through. At eight, he was presented with a Child of Achievement Award from Sir John Major for his bravery.

And although he is currently on crutches, he still manages to play golf every day - a sport he has been playing since he was three-years-old and now has a handicap of 10.

Every year of his life, Michael has had to go to hospital. Three times he has had the tibia in his right leg broken and pulled apart - in one place or two - so that when the bone knits together, his right leg will be the same length as his left one.

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He had this done in 1997, 2000 and in November 2007 - the operation which will be his last.

He has also had to have other operations to lengthen tendons, straighten the bone and surgery on his foot. Over the years, he has had 23 centimetres added to his right leg, five in the first operation, 12 in the second and six this time.

The correction process involves placing his right leg in a metal cage and screwing metal spikes into the bone.

Four times a day, Michael has to turn screws in the metal frame so the bone is pulled apart.

The process is a gradual one and this time the cage had to stay on for five months. As the process continues, the gap is widened and the bone gradual heals and lengthens.

For the second operation in 2000, the cage had to stay on for nine months but without the surgery he believes he would have been unable to walk and would be in a wheelchair.

Michael admits it can be painful and he is given morphine for the pain,

"This time, I took it at first but then one day I went cold turkey and since then I haven't had any pain at all."

He adds: "I always knew it would be a long process. I am having a year out between school and university and I knew that was when I would have the operation done."

He says he has always had support from friends at school. "I have tried to do everything. I played cricket and football. It has never held me back. It has never been an issue at school, friends have always looked out for me.

"It's the little things that make all the difference, like bringing stuff home to me when I was off school and making sure I was never the last to be picked for sports teams."

He added: "I didn't expect to be able to play golf this time, but I went along to the driving range and I found I could hit the ball and I play as much as possible.

Michael has a place at Aston University to study business and politics.

He said: "I am really looking forward now to having this last operation behind me and starting university. The most frustrating thing at the moment is not being able to drive. That was a shock to the system."

He says when he was a little boy he just accepted the operations as part of his life. "My parents always said they were proud of me."

Michael's parents, Anna-Maria and Ross recommended him for a Child of Achievement award in 1998.

Mrs Gays said: "It was just part of Michael's growing up and he accepted it.

"When he was a little boy we wanted him to be proud of what he had faced so bravely and rightly so. We think he has been an inspiration to lots of other kids. He has always been so dignified and other children have admired him over the years but it was different looking after a child. Now we are supporting another adult.

"I met someone out this week who told me they had seen Michael, on the golf course putting cups under his crutches so he didn't sink into the greens. They thought it was amazing."

Caption:

NO HANDICAP: Michael Gays still playing golf despite having to walk on crutches. Picture: HELEN DRAKE.

Other pictures:

BRAVE: Michael in hospital aged 12.

AWARD: Michael receiving a Child of Achievement Award with John and Norma Major.

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